Otherwise, You're Looking at the Same Old XPS 13 (and that's not a bad thing)
In other respects, this is the same as the XPS 13 1366 x 768 model with an aluminum lid, carbon fiber bottom and magnesium alloy keyboard deck with a soft touch finish. It has Intel dual band WiFi with WiDi wireless display, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort and a 3.5mm audio jack but no SD card slot or Ethernet. It's slim and light at 3 lbs. and good looking. It's also sturdy as all heck and can take some punishment.
Build quality, fit and finish and even the box are top notch. The XPS 13 weighs 3 pounds, which is average for Ultrabooks and lighter than the marginally smaller XPS 12. It's 0.24" at its thinnest point up front and 0.71" at the rear. The laptop looks like a Dell when it comes to the black keyboard deck and fondness for curves. The lozenge-like aluminum lid is very attractive, though MacBook Air derivative. The tapered sides make for a slim look and feel, and the carbon fiber that covers the bottom and wraps around the sides looks and feels simply wonderful. It's got a soft touch feel that's grippy.
Like its predecessor, the new XPS 13 has surprisingly good audio courtesy of two 1.5 watt stereo speakers. It uses Waves MaxxAudio 4. It had more than enough volume to fill a large living room with sound when we watched movies and it wasn't in the least bit hissy or shrill at higher volumes. That said, this is a small notebook, and bass is barely there.
Dell's not an All Star here,: there's no SD card slot, Ethernet port or HDMI port that sometimes make an appearance on other Ultrabooks. The laptop has two USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm combo audio and a Mini DisplayPort that can drive monitors higher than 1080p resolution. The machine has Intel Advanced N dual band WiFi with Bluetooth and it has Intel WiDi to wirelessly use your TV as a second monitor if you have something like the $99 NetGear Push2TV. The left USB port is quite close to the charging port and headphone jack, and we couldn't use one of our chunkier SD card readers with the charger plugged in.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Dell XPS 13's Chiclet keyboard is top notch, with good key travel and tactile feedback. The keys are relatively roomy given the 13.3" chassis, with an ergonomic shape that helps keep your fingers on the keys. The white backlighting is very even with little light bleed from the key edges. For writers, this is a heavenly keyboard.
The Cypress glass trackpad hasn't improved much since we reviewed the first generation XPS 13. Simple finger tracking works decently, though it occasionally seems to stall when tracking finger movement. Windows 8 swipe gestures are reliable and multi-touch isn't as solid as we'd like. We hope driver updates will improve trackpad performance.
Dell claims up to 9 hours of battery life on a charge with the internal 47 WHr, 6 cell Lithium Ion polymer battery, which is stronger than touch screen Windows 8 touchscreen convertibles. In our tests so far, we've averaged 6 hours on a charge. As with most Ultrabooks, the battery isn't swappable, but if you don't mind taking your Ultrabook apart (remove screws on the bottom cover to do so), you can replace the battery if it gets old and tired a few years down the road.
The charger itself is the usual very compact brick and it uses a 3 prong plug like most Windows PC chargers. The Dell has a smart battery indicator on the right side: press it and the four LEDs will give you an idea of remaining charge even if the laptop is off.
The Dell XPS 13 FHD is a solid pick for business and home Ultrabook buyers who don't want a touch screen. It uses top quality materials, is put together with excellent fit and finish and it's a good looking machine. The updated third generation Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs deliver solid performance and the keyboard is still one of our favorites (Lenovo and Dell fight for top position). The price is competitive with other high quality Ultrabooks on the market; though it's about $100-$200 higher than comparable models from more aggressively brands like Asus with their Zenbook Prime UX31A. That said, it isn't expensive compared to the lovely Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The XPS 13 FHD is easy to recommend to those looking for a durable, stylish 3 pound portable with a great keyboard. We'd love to see Dell add an SD card slot and an HDMI port so we could ditch the fiddly adapters and card readers, but those are our only complaints. We won't bemoan the lack of a touchscreen because it's clear that Dell offers this model to those who don't want that feature, and they sell the excellent Dell XPS 12 for those who do want touch.
Price: $999 to $1,599 ($1,299 as tested)